Dance at Plantation, Trinidad, 1836


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This record was last updated on 01 Feb 2017

Image Reference
NW0166

Source
Richard Bridgens, West India Scenery...from sketches taken during a voyage to, and residence of seven years in ... Trinidad (London, 1836), plate 23.

Comments
Caption, "Negro Dance." A plantation dance, probably held on a weekend, and musical instruments. Bridgens stresses the importance of the dance and dancing in the life of the enslaved, and how people normally dress in their best clothes. The instruments include a "drum, made of a barrel, covered at one end with a piece of dried goat's skin, and a . . . shak-shak, formed of a hollow calabash, in which some shot or stones are enclosed" (Bridgens). The Library of Congress has a colored lithograph (shown here); in other copies of the Bridgens book, it is in black/white. A sculptor, furniture designer and architect, Richard Bridgens was born in England in 1785, but in 1826 he moved to Trinidad where his wife had inherited a sugar plantation, St. Clair. Although he occasionally returned to England, he ultimately lived in Trinidad for seven years and died in Port of Spain in 1846. Bridgens' book contains 27 plates, thirteen of which are shown on this website. The plates were based on drawings made from life and were done between 1825, when Bridgens arrived in Trinidad, and 1836, when his book was published. Although his work is undated, the title page of a copy held by the Beinecke Rare Book Room at Yale University has a front cover with a publication date of 1836, the date usually assigned to this work by major libraries whose copies lack a title page. Bridgens' racist perspectives on enslaved Africans and his defense of slavery are discussed in T. Barringer, G. Forrester, and B. Martinez-Ruiz, Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 460-461. Bridgens’ life is discussed extensively along with discussion of his drawings and presentation of many details on slave life in Trinidad in Judy Raymond, The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery (Coconut Beach, Florida: Caribbean Studies Press, 2016). Raymond’s book, which is an essential source for any study of Bridgens, also includes a number of unpublished sketches of Trinidadian slave life. See also Brian Austen, Richard Hicks Bridgens (Oxford Art Online/Grove Art Online).